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The Complete Northstar Tahoe Resort Snowboarding Guide

Northstar Lake Tahoe ski resort

Ever dreamed of snowboarding on a volcano? Well, Northstar California lies on the extinct volcano Mount Pluto and can make that a reality…

Crazy as that may sound, the riding here is pretty down to earth. This Epic Pass resort in North Lake Tahoe puts families front and center and caters to beginner and intermediate level riders with plenty of mellow, groomed runs for learning.

Nestled in the Granite Chief range of the Sierra Nevada mountains lies Northstar ski resort. Winters bring 350 inches of annual average snowfall and Northstar boasts the largest snowmaking in the area.

Northstar officially has 3,170 acres but it rides about half that size without recent snowfall filling in and opening up a number of runs. There are two lifts from the village to the mid mountain base area and the mountain is divided into four easy to find sections (Terrain Parks, Mount Pluto, The Backside, and Lookout Mountain.) Northstar has 100 named runs with 13 beginner, 60 intermediate, and 27 expert trails.

This Epic Pass resort puts families front and center and caters to beginner and intermediate level riders…

With upgrades from Vail Resorts and the debut of the Ritz-Carlton, Northstar assumed its posh reputation and distinguished itself from other Lake Tahoe ski areas. (At the same time, it’s earned the nickname “Flatstar” over the years.) The entire resort is below tree line and views feature the beautiful alpine basin of the Martis Valley and a sliver of Lake Tahoe at just the right point on the ridge. The forests mean the runs are protected from high winds plaguing the area and plenty of glades to explore.

Where to Rent Gear

If you’re wondering if Northstar is a family- and beginner-friendly ski resort, the answer is a big yes. And, it’s likely you’ll need to rent gear in the Northstar Village before hitting these slopes. If that’s the case, book online at Butterbox (530-562-3650, which specializes in snowboards and offers try-before-you-buy demos. Or, pop by Burton (530-562-8014), where you can test the complete fleet of Burton demo boards, boots, and bindings. If you’re staying at Northstar you can make a rental reservation at Northstar Sports (530-562-3669), then pick a time and meeting place to get it all delivered. 

Once the lifts start spinning, the best way to think about snowboarding at Northstar is to follow the sun and do your best to avoid the crowds.

Northstar Trail map winter

Best Runs at Northstar Ski Resort

There are a cool 100 snow-covered runs ready for turns at Northstar, and it doesn’t take long to explore them all. It’s known for well-groomed intermediate cruisers and mellow runs sheltered by forests. (It’s trying to be the Deer Valley of the West Coast.) Here are the very best for all abilities and how to reach them.

Burton Terrain Parks… There are eight separate freestyle areas. They are divided by ability and all accessed with a dedicated lift, Vista Express, for easy laps. Start with Playground, Burton Progression Park, Forerunner, Moonshine, and Lil Stash for beginners, Pinball and Sidewinder for intermediate, and The Straits Park and Pipeline for experts.

East Ridge… This run is all about the views of Big Blue. Lake Tahoe’s sparkling waters beckon from below, as you amble along this gentle ridgeline. Yes, it’s flat at the top, so you have plenty of time to stare at the view.

The Rapids… Put your turning skills to the test with moguls from top to bottom. If bumps aren’t your fave, try the neighboring Burnout for a speedy shot down to the Backside Express, a lappable area with fresh snow or bright sun conditions.

Glades… There are 600 gladed acres with well-spaced trees that are best explored after a biblical deluge of fresh snow Tahoe is known for.

For young riders, Skicology and Wagon Wheel zones (located near the Luggi and Deerskin trails) are filled with local history and fun environmental facts. Beginners of all ages can enjoy the greens under The Big Easy lift.

Northstar terrain park
Northstar terrain park
Northstar Lake Tahoe ski resort

Best Powder Stash at Northstar

Without a recent storm, powder is difficult to come by at Northstar. It’s hard to find an area or run that doesn’t get skied off quickly. Northstar is popular and crowded, so the snow disappears and gets compacted quickly. We visited during a long dry spell (no significant snowfall for six weeks) and didn’t find any powder stashes. But, we hear from trusted sources these areas are your best bets for powder.

There’s no need to splurge on the Platinum Primo Private instructor, it’s easy to navigate around all the runs and the info personnel are eager to share all their snow intel. Plan to surf around Lookout Mountain and hitting up Lookout Glade and Sugar Pine Glade, The Backside’s Monument Glade, and steer clear of slow ridge routes.

Northstar ski resort runs

Where to Eat on Mountain

The mid mountain base area, where the gondola drops off has several dining outlets. picnic tables, and outside firepits. You can grab traditional mac and cheese or top it with pulled pork or flaming hot cheetos at The Big Cheezy truck. Nearby, The Lodge at Big Springs has cafeteria style options like loaded salads, burgers, breakfast burritos, and chili with cornbread at Mid Mountain.

Northstar ski resort food

Zephyr Lodge is a great place for lunch and soaking in the Sierra Nevada views through giant windows. It’s at the top of the six-person Zephyr Express lift and serves up all the usual mountain fare.

If you want to dine outside, head to the Summit Smokehouse. The large patio and BBQ menu are appealing. Some of the mountain’s most scenic spots also have Adirondack chairs and picnic tables, if you bring your own brown bag lunch.

Of all the lines you’ll encounter and try to avoid, the long afternoon queue at Tost is worth the wait. Everyday at 2 pm, the alfresco bar pours complimentary glasses of bubbly. There’s even apple cider for kids. We recommend joining the line by 1:30 p.m. and bring an ID to ensure you can toast. Or, you can enjoy a variety of bevies served at the hut and claim a giant beanbag to relax.

Manzanita at Ritz-Carlton serves seasonal and locally sourced ingredients that look as beautiful as they taste. Living Room is a popular lunch spot and for après-ski cocktails.  

[For more dining options and the best bars around Lake Tahoe, check out our Lake Tahoe winter guide.]

The Most Instagrammable Places at Northstar

Northstar ski resort

East Ridge… Cheers with your board buddies at Tost, then ride along for a glimpse of the lake and capture it all.

Village Ice Skating Rink… Grab s’mores and a spot at one of many toasty firepits after a full day on the mountain and snap a relaxing pic or one of a spin around the ice.

Terrain Parks… There are unlimited freestyle options with jumps, rails, boxes, pipes, and more. For every feature, there are even more fun photography angles. Air it out and record the thrilling memories.

Northstar terrain park

Ritz-Carlton… Twirling staircases and the stunning pool and hot tub area are just a couple photo options if you opted for the luxe ski-in/ski-out lodging.

Northstar ski resort instagram

Why You’ll Love Riding Northstar Ski Resort

Northstar is made for families. Where it really rocks is the terrain parks. It also has the only Burton Snowboard Academy and is an excellent resort for learning and progressing your board skills.

Eight terrain parks… period. Yes, there are more than 90 other runs, but the freestyle areas make Northstar really shine. The progressive parks came from the designers responsible for the Winter X Games features.

Northstar has the largest snowmaking in the area. That means, even when snowstorms are infrequent, the base remains solid and the terrain parks are well maintained.

You get to snowboard on an extinct volcano. The main mountain, Mount Pluto, erupted 2 million years ago and helped created Lake Tahoe.

Northstar ski resort

Snowboard Traveler Insider Tips:

Northstar is a very busy resort on the popular Epic Pass. We recommend doing everything you can to avoid the crowds, or get ahead of them.

Arrive extra, extra early. The free parking lots fill up and so do the shuttle buses transporting guests to the base. Unless you enjoy waiting in multiple lines, head out at least 90 minutes before the lifts start spinning to get ahead of the crowds (that’s 8:30 a.m.). The free parking lots are a shuttle bus ride away and become crowded quickly. Otherwise, expect to wait in lines of cars for a spot, then a line of guests for the shuttle bus, then another line for the gondola.

Don’t ever visit during California Ski Week. Schools close the week of President’s Day and all ski families flock to Lake Tahoe from around Northern California. It’s an absolute mad house.

Do bring the whole fam on weekdays to avoid lift lines and packed slopes. Or, stay higher up on the mountain and do laps on Comstock Express instead of riding down to the Mid Mountain Village every run.

Stay in Truckee to be surrounded by a laid-back mountain town vibe or book a room in Tahoe City for gorgeous Lake Tahoe sunrise views.

If you’re an expert all-mountain rider and want extreme, steep runs with a backcountry feel, head to Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, or Kirkwood. (You’ll probably feel underwhelmed and claustrophobic at Northstar.)

Snowboard Traveler Favorite:

We loved the terrain parks. They’re thoughtfully designed with learning at all levels in mind. The only downside were the crowds waiting atop each jump and zig-zagging through the halfpipe.

Northstar ski resort

Getting There & Around

For a snowboard trip at Northstar, you’ll likely fly to Reno-Tahoe airport and make the 60-minute drive. The closest town to Northstar is the vibrant, adventure village of Truckee. Northstar is also about 15 minutes drive away from the north shore of Lake Tahoe and quaint lake towns.

Alternatively, the Sacramento airport is two hours away, and the Bay Area is at least three hours driving away.

There is pay parking steps away from the gondola, but most visitors park in the free lot and take the short shuttle ride to reach the base. It’s a huge parking lot and can get very busy, but it moves smoothly when you arrive early.

Where Northstar really rocks is the expansive freestyle terrain.

The Details:

  • Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Opening/Closing Dates: mid-November to April
  • Average Annual Snowfall: 350 inches
  • Elevation: 8,610 feet summit, 6,800 feet mid-mountain, 6,330 feet base village
  • Address: 5001 Northstar Dr., Truckee, CA
  • Nearest Airport: Reno-Tahoe (1 hour drive) or Sacramento (2 hour drive)
  • Pass Access: Epic Pass
  • Reservations: Required for the 2020-2021 season. Log into your account on epicpass.com and select available days. {Learn more about COVID-19 safety regulations and pandemic procedures for ski resorts here.}
  • Resort Instagram: @northstar_california

History Of Northstar

The railroad and mining industries dominate the history of the area. Nearby Truckee is a historic town with original 1800s storefronts and Victorians housing shops, bars, and restaurants today. 

But, the slopes of Northstar and Mount Pluto were once a logging site. The original name, Timber Farm, was changed to Northstar-at-Tahoe when it opened in 1972 as a tiny ski area amenity of a planned community. It started with five chairlifts and runs designed by Luggi Foeger, an Austrian who came to the U.S. during WWII.

Recent history brought some of the biggest changes to Northstar, including the Ritz-Carlton, which opened in 2009, and Vail Resorts overseeing operations since 2010. Upgrades, the 9,000-square-foot ice skating rink encircled by fire pits, bars, high-end shops, and a variety of restaurants, transformed Northstar’s base into a village reminiscent of Beaver Creek.

Jennifer Nied
Jennifer Nied

Jennifer Nied has more than 10 years of writing and editing experience specializing in adventure and wellness travel, fitness, and spa. A Colorado native, Jennifer has been snowboarding for more than 23 years. She is a contributing writer for Women’s Health and her work has appeared in Budget Travel, American Spa, Good Housekeeping, Apartment Therapy, and more.

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1 Comment

  1. Beau Ewan
    December 18, 2020 / 11:27 pm

    This is a really great post and super helpful. If covid-19 calms down a bit over the next couple of months, we have plans to stay at Northstar in mid-March for a much needed trip. This post got me really psyched. Mahalo!

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